The most anticipated Finals of this century ended on Monday night in dramatic fashion. The Warriors staved off the Cavs in Game 5, ending their historic postseason 16–1. Steph Curry received his redemption, Kevin Durant his ring, and the NBA a budding dynasty.
The scene in the Cavs locker room was certainly bleaker than that of the Warriors, who celebrated their first title at home since moving to Oakland. LeBron dropped to 3–5 all-time in the Finals despite another brilliant performance, and once again questions will arise regarding the strength of LeBron’s supporting cast.
The trilogy is now over, with the Dubs holding a 2–1 lead over The King. But will this year's gentlemen's sweep be the last time the Warriors and Cavs meet in the Finals? Let’s stare into our proverbial crystal ball, and assess the odds of Cavs-Warriors IV a year from now.
Golden State Warriors
The Dubs’ demolishment of their competition in the playoffs proved what many had wondered since Durant signed on July 4th. There are no true challengers to Golden State’s dominance, not even the greatest player of this generation.
Some would argue Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs would have given the Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals—especially considering San Antonio’s 23-point lead in Game 1 before Leonard’s injury—but that’s a mere hypothetical. Golden State won 31 of their last 33 games and steamrolled through every team in their path. There’s no doubting the best team won the title this year.
But will we see more of the same next season? The short answer: probably. The core four of Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will be back once again—assuming Curry and Durant either re-sign or pick-up player options—and Steve Kerr is a master at wringing the most from his bench stable. There’s just too much scoring talent to defend at one time, and when locked in defensively, there may not be a more cohesive unit in the league.
There will certainly be challenges, though. Golden State has eight free agents aside from Curry, many who were integral to the Warriors’ success over the past three years. Former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala will be looking for one more sizable contract, while role players Shaun Livingston and Ian Clarke could find lucrative offers away from the Bay Area. Centers Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee will also both be free agents. While the core will be the same, the Dubs depth could look far different next year.
But even with a protracted bench, there look to be few teams in the West who could give Golden State a playoff challenge. Utah is a limited bunch offensively who might lose its best player in free agency, and the Clippers are still the Clippers. The one-man-bands in Houston and Oklahoma City wowed fans during the regular season, but failed to carry their respective teams to the conference finals.
The only true challenger looks to be San Antonio. Gregg Popovich will continue to run the Spurs like a well-oiled machine as Kawhi Leonard makes another run at the MVP, and 50+ wins is a near-guarantee. And things could be really interesting this off-season if the Spurs can wrangle Chris Paul away from the West Coast. The Point God plays like the ideal Spur, a pick-n-roll maestro with incredible vision. Pair him with Leonard, and the Spurs would have their own answer to Golden State’s lethal two-man game with Curry and Durant. The money is still on Paul returning to Los Angeles, but a move to the Alamo City would create a formidable foe for Golden State.
LeBron James will enter next season as the favorite to appear in his eighth-straight Finals. No Eastern Conference team has been able to stop the league’s best player since he joined the Heat in 2010, not the Pacers, not the Raptors, and not either iteration of the Celtics. LeBron has steamrolled any competition in his path, a constant presence as the conference scrambles around him.
Paired with star sidekicks Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love along with a litany of knockdown shooters, James currently enjoys a roster tailored to his skillset. And with eight of the Cavs’ top nine contributors returning next year, Cleveland can hit the ground running in the regular season. If the core stays healthy, another Finals run will certainly be in play.
As in the West, there seems to only be one true contender to The King’s crown. The Raptors’ best days are behind them, and Washington is still lacking any semblance of depth (not to mention Otto Porter’s impending free agency). Milwaukee is still a couple of years away from possible title contention, and Chicago and Indiana may very soon be trading their superstars.
That leaves Boston, whose cupboards are more than stocked moving forward. The C’s boast the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, a bevy of young assets, and cap space to boot. They’ll begin free agency by making a run at Gordon Hayward—who played for Brad Stevens at Butler—and GM Danny Ainge could very well make a play for Paul George or Jimmy Butler via trade. Add Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick, then add one of Hayward, George or Butler, and Boston’s roster becomes pretty formidable. It may not be enough to topple Cleveland, but a series between the two teams would be much more competitive than this year’s five-game snoozer in the Eastern Conference finals.